By Sarah Meier
I’ve only ever been to two marches, demonstrations of support and/or protest that cascade and wind, organized, through the streets of a city. The first one I attended was the (second) Women’s March in New York, a sea of pink pussy hats and clever signs spilling down the center of Manhattan’s grid of avenues, a year and a day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
As the month of March 2018 came to a close, I was asked to attend my second march. The person who posed the request? My 12-year-old daughter. It was, as she explained, a march for their lives. As the debate continues to volley between a call for heightened gun laws and the response that this is not a firearms regulation problem but a mental health problem, my child that grew up doing earthquake drills in the Philippines, was now being trained to respond to active shooter lockdowns at school in America.
She had participated in the National School Walkout some weeks earlier, a 17-minute exit from her sixth grade classroom to protest gun violence and to commemorate the 17 lives lost in the Parkland school shooting. Her best friend’s eighth grade sister, who helped organize their middle school’s participation, was interviewed on NPR that day and, listening, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. They were mother’s tears.
Survival instinct, as a mother, extends to protecting your offspring. Nurturing a life into existence transforms into sustaining growth and full maturity, the womb becoming more than a space we physically hold inside us—but a metaphor for the world we try to create for our children. In the wild, the threats are rampant but simple in theory; predators, hunger, and climate related turf wars all stem from a basic need to survive.
For humans, I constantly refer back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when I’m trying to understand why we do the things we do. At the very bottom of this pyramid model, as foundation, are the physiological needs that include air, water, food, sleep, clothing, shelter, and sexual instinct. Once these physical requirements are accounted for, an individual is said to then seek safety in the forms of personal security: physical safety, economic stability, and health/well-being. Succeeding this is the third level of human needs, which are social in nature: friendships, intimacy, and family. Esteem, self-actualization, and self-transcendence round out the top three chunks of the pyramid.
What the children taught me at the March for Our Lives rallies in Washington DC and New York City was that our biggest problem is brokenness, and that brokenness takes different forms in different sectors of society. This most recent cry for gun control was started by a group of affluent white students, whose otherwise safe haven of Parkland, Florida, was attacked by a boy with a broken heart (brokenness on the level of social needs), while the cries from inner-city and minority communities that live with gun violence on a daily basis, have largely gone ignored for decades. The perpetuating brokenness in places like the South Side of Chicago occur one level down from Parkland—things like physical safety and economic stability are relatively nonexistent, which make social needs seem almost silly by comparison. The children taught me that their advocacy was intersectional, by uniting in a way that grownups have much to learn from, inviting voices from different communities of brokenness to speak on their truths.
It has led me to think much about the Philippines; a country that has such disparate distinctions between rich and poor. It continues to inform my attempts to understand the constituents of warring political parties, and moves me to find grassroots solutions for healing our people. The children, perhaps, too, have that answer.